Is air travel on the rebound? TSA reports a week of passenger growth

Apr 28, 2020

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The dramatic falloff in U.S. airline passengers may have hit bottom, judging from a recent uptick in screening numbers from the Transportation Security Administration.

The agency had been screening more than 2 million travelers on most days earlier this year, but those numbers cratered as the coronvirus pandemic took a swift hold in the U.S.

The nadir may have come on April 13, when the agency screened just 87,534 passengers — down a whopping 96% percent from the 2.1 million screened less than a month earlier on March 8. Since traffic plummeted to that record low, the total number of screened passengers has generally been hovering between 90,000 and 105,000 daily travelers.

While there is still some fluctuation, the numbers have headed up during the past week, rising from 92,859 passengers on April 21 to nearly 120,000 on Monday. Those numbers are still only about 5% of what was being counted on the same day in 2019, but it has been trending higher.

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The total on Sunday — 128,875 — was the highest since April 3. Monday also marked the fifth-consecutive day that the TSA counted more than 100,000 travelers at its checkpoints, giving it a run of six-digit figures for the first time since the first week of April.

Whether the gradual increase represents the beginning of a recovery or just a temporary upward blip remains to be seen. But it comes as some states slowly begin to reopen following coronavirus-related restrictions on movement.

Read more: Travel may look different after the pandemic subsides.

Even so, the number of screenings remains tiny compared to what was once considered normal. On Monday, the TSA screened just 119,854 travelers, compared to more than 2.4 million travelers a year ago.

With airlines already planning to maintain skeletal networks into the summer, it’s unlikely U.S. airports will return to seven-figure passenger screening numbers any time soon. But it is possible that the bottom has been reached when it comes to the smallest number of passengers traversing through TSA checkpoints in the U.S.

Read more: What it’s like to fly in the U.S. right now

Read more: Global Entry enrollment suspended until June 1.

Featured photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

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